The last few years have seen a wave of persecution of Christians sweep across the UK. Or so you would think from reading some of the headlines. If only it were true.
Lord Carey (former Archbishop of Canterbury) has been vociferous in speaking out for persecuted Christians and argues the case for a greater freedom of religious expression in the UK. He cites cases where registrars and therapists have been sacked for refusing to conduct civil partnership ceremonies or to give sex counselling to gay couples, and a British Airways worker who was sent home after refusing to remove a necklace with a cross. Then there’s Healing on the Streets, the Christian prayer initiative that has been banned in Bath from advertising healing.
When one considers the immense daily persecution suffered around the world a banned crucifix or a lost job or two in a nation of 62 million is flapping about nothing. If there have been about 288 Christian martyrdoms around the world in the last 60 minutes then we’re not really persecuted in the UK.
During the last Parliamentary elections for one Wednesday night’s lad’s group we decided to work out what our manifesto would be if we were to run the country. Jokingly, and to make a point, I suggested ramping up the persecution of Christians as a sure-fire way to kick a bit of vigour into the Church and to aid the spreading of the gospel.
It has been said that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. If Nero hadn’t turned the persecution that had previously been minor and localized Jewish outrage into mainstream Roman policy then house Churches wouldn’t have spread like wildfire with the scattering of leaders across continents. If Paul hadn’t been imprisoned we wouldn’t have much of the New Testament that now forms our church building and theology.
So bring on the persecution.
Acts 16 paints a solid picture of what we should do with persecution. Paul and Silas have just freed a woman from oppression who was being kept as a slave for her owners who charged money for her Psychic abilities. Now her angry revenue-deprived owners drag Paul and Silas to the marketplace for a public hearing and humilation, accusing them of throwing the Greek city into uproar.
The two are stripped right there in the market, beaten with rods, and thrown into jail. The Jailer’s told to look after them carefully so he puts them in an inner cell and fastens their feet into stocks.
So, UK Christians, what would our response be at this point? Seek to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights? Not Paul and Silas. They sing, they pray. Of course, the other prisoners were listening intently to these two curious men. You would, wouldn’t you? Weirdos.
And then what happens? Suddenly there’s such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison are shaken. At once all the prison doors fly open, and everyone’s chains come loose. The walls must have cracked right along the line that all the chains were bolted into the wall, or something, and the magnetic life that these two men carried between them captivated the newly freed prisoners in a deeper way than their looseed chains ever had.
The night ends with the Jailer cleaning Paul and Silas’ wounds, and him and his entire family being baptised.
So, Church of Jesus, what are we going to do when faced with persecution? Our biblical example makes it clear-
Yes, I do appreciate the relative freedom we have in the west, but comfort tempts the Church at large to grow cautious, sleepy and content with being ignored. I’d rather our light shone in the face of dark opposition than was hidden. I’d rather be reviled than ignored.
As we start to sing our anthem in the face of adversity it loses all power over us.
This is infectious joy, and nothing in the whole world can take it from us.
So now it’s over to you- what do you think? Leave a comment.